When I was a young girl, my parents taught me how to use the internet. It was the 1990’s, and we had a home computer and AOL, and on there I made my first email “pen pals” and I learned how to type and do so well. I still did regular kid things, like play outside or played video games on our Super Nintendo and later Playstation. As I hit my tweens, the internet still had dial up connection, but there was a plethora of more niche websites to explore.
Throughout my teenage years I got really into message boards and cute game or avatar websites like NeoPets and Gaia Online. I can’t remember the first website builder I ever used at around 12, but it wasn’t long before I switched to Geocities and then eventually Angelfire. I mainly hung out on anime or vampire themed websites before I found my home with online trading card games, or TCGs. I got into blogging via LiveJournal in high school, and though I have stopped writing in it, the journal is still there for me to look back on occasionally. Through message boards and TCGs I had made some lifelong friends that I still talk to in the present day. My fascination with my online niche communities became something I was known for even among my circles of real life friends.
Life back then was far more simple before the modern era of the internet. Social media simply didn’t exist, and though there was drama occasionally among the communities I frequented, it was mostly self moderated and could easily be separated from my personal life. I could simply log off and not have to worry about anything. While the person that I was online is very much like the person I am in real life, it was a safe space for me where I could truly be myself.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a lot of those old communities die, and be replaced by the overwhelming noise from social media and viral news. As our world has become more connected, it also makes me feel more disconnected at the same time. When social media was new, I was in love with Facebook and MySpace, sharing pictures and connecting with friends, both my previously anonymous internet friends as well as old friends I knew in person when I was younger.
More recently, I have fallen completely out of love with social media, having become a place bombarded with filters and an obsession with collecting followers or going viral. Social media and dating apps wrecked havoc on my personal life and made me feel less able to connect with anyone. It became a pain point for my husband and I, and though we’ve resolved our issues, it still causes deep anxiety for me.
The internet today has it’s benefits of course, it’s easier than ever to build websites like this one, there are still people out there putting out quality content, and the fast and ready access to content is wonderful. I love being able to chat with friends via voice communication platforms or watching my friends stream games. I don’t have to worry about clicking on a website and having a dozens of loud and obnoxious advertisements popping up on my screen, but then that’s because advertisements have been scattered cleanly throughout every website that I open. Folks are out there fighting for representation for different identities, but then I see those same communities turn in on themselves and attack.
Often I find myself wanting to go back to when the internet was much more simple with our niche communities. I have friends that I can talk to just like I did back then, though the medium has changed, but there is a part of me that wants to go back to a time before the internet has become so much a part of everyone’s personal lives. I feel less free sometimes being me, sharing details of my personal life, sexuality, or religious and political views for fear of backlash from family or employers. I know it’s hopeless to think about, and things weren’t perfect back then, but I can’t help feeling like I just had so much more fun back then.
- Were you around on the internet in the 90’s and early 00’s?
- How do you feel about the way that the internet has evolved over time?
- Do you ever get nostalgia or want to go back to the way things were?